Frank Farris was born in the brothel his mother owned, back in 1958.
Even face-down on the zebra-print sheet he looks good for his age: bullet-shaped head, cropped black hair and a deep tan. He’s running to fat, but still well-muscled enough to give some poor fuck a hiding.
The Cantonese girl in the latex nurse’s uniform removes Frank’s ball-gag and places a cherry cigarillo in his drool-encrusted mouth, sparking it up with a scuffed-looking gold Dunhill lighter.
He puffs on the cigarillo and glances up at me with an amused look in his eyes.
“I heard you were dead.”
“Yeah, I heard that too. In my case a cop whispered it to me in the back of an ambulance.”
Despite the tan, his demeanour is colder than a Paignton winter.
Frank has come a long way. The way people tell it, he started out selling dirty pictures imported in bulk from the Eastern Bloc. Pale flesh, dead eyes and plenty of pubic hair. He kept them in a lock-up behind Winner Street and flogged them in pubs, video shops and amusement arcades. Understandably, he was known around town as ‘Frank the Wank’ . . .
Then again, the last man to call him that to his face had his wrists and ankles shattered with a length of lead pipe, and was thrown in the duck pond in Victoria Park. Sadly, it is all I can think of, seeing him naked in an S&M brothel, with a ball-gag dangling from his saggy neck.
Farris wriggles off the bed and beckons me to follow him.
“Come on, son, let’s talk in my office. I’ve got a job for you . . .”
Twelve hours later.
I’m standing outside a terraced house in Old Paignton. One of the ones opposite the derelict Douglas Deadman & Sons funeral parlour. The boarded-up stiff-house with the sign that says “Giving cold bodies a warm welcome since 1909” . . .
I’m not round the front though—I’m round the back, where the broken glass cemented on top of the crude rock wall glints in the afternoon sun.
I’m wearing a baggy grey boiler-suit, and look like the TV repairman in an old soft-porn movie. I told the elderly lady in the adjoining property that there had been a report of raw sewage bubbling out of people’s drains. She let me in straight away, although I’m not sure what she thought I was going to do with a fucking hammer . . .
I toss the tool over the wall and remove my boiler-suit, folding it to protect my hands as I clamber over the wall. I heave myself over, landing awkwardly—the second-hand boiler-suit shredding on the glass as it follows me over. Fuck it. The money Frank Farris paid me will pay for a new one—and a whole lot more.
A former employee cleaned out the safe at Farris’s S&M joint two days ago, and he hired me to retrieve it for him. He told me that it wasn’t the money—it was the principle. As a man of few principles I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Hell, the money he offered me was nearly as much as he lost through the robbery . . . This fucking town.
I recognised Boggs as soon as Farris showed me the CCTV footage. Last time I crossed paths with him he was still a bent cop. Now the contamination seems to have spread to his whole body and he just looks old, sick and fat.
I’ve known plenty of corrupt cops in my time, but this guy is dirtier than unwiped arseholes. Rapist, racketeer, reprobate, and now robber. What a fucking mooch.
Suffice to say, he wasn’t the employee in question. No one in their right mind would pay Boggs to perform a sex act on them. Even in Paignton.
The employee in question was another blast from the past—and this one hit me with both barrels.
Cherry was wearing a shabby-looking fake fur coat and oversized sunglasses in the CCTV footage, her dirty blonde hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. She blew a kiss to the camera on her way out of the brothel—arm around Boggs’s waist, Farris’s weekend takings stashed in a Lidl carrier bag.
She always had a tendency to flit between scams and scammers back when I knew her —sleazy men with queasy schemes—but this is a new low, and I dread to think what Frank the Wank will do to her if he finds her. When he finds her.
The back door is unlocked, so I don’t even need to use the hammer. I edge through the kitchenette towards the lounge. Boggs is on the sofa, watching cheap, locally-produced pornography—a typical Paignton crotch opera. The volume is deafening, and the woman on-screen has small veiny breasts, which remind me of a wrestler’s fists.
He is masturbating, cheap gold jewellery jangling against his wrist. The bracelets are the same grubby gold colour as a can of Special Brew. Dirty banknotes are spread across the coffee table in front of him in unsteady piles.
The last time I crossed paths with Boggs he tried to kill me—and very nearly succeeded. I try to regulate my breathing, but I feel the situation slipping away from me. I hold so many grudges that I should probably carry them around in a fucking Slazenger kit-bag.
The lounge smells of unwashed bodies and vomit. It would take a fire to erase the smell completely. Which gives me a great idea.
7% of house fires in Paignton are supposedly caused by rats biting through electrical cables.
The rest are caused by jittery maniacs with brightly coloured three-for-£1 lighters.
“Hey, Boggs. Long time, no see.”
He turns around nervously.
“What the fuck do you want?”
I set fire to the greasy head-mark on the corner of the mouldy sofa.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Frank the Wank wants his money back.”
“Frank the Wank can fuck off, mate.”
He reaches for a battered little throw-down piece on the coffee table but I bring the claw hammer down on the back of his hand. He screams and reaches for the gun with his other hand. I slam the claw into his collarbone and twist it, flipping his dumpy body onto the flimsy table. He crawls through the wreckage, haplessly beating at the crackling flames that are licking at his mangy dressing gown. The cheap furniture is burning like kindling, and the bank notes are starting to blacken.
He glares up at me.
“What the fuck is the matter with you?”
Honestly, I wish I knew.
I wrench the hammer out of Boggs’s puckered flesh and drag him across the burning room and through the blistered front door by his fat neck—tossing him on the dog-shit-strewn pavement.
His breathing is sick and raspy, and smells of Babycham and lung blood.
“Please, my niece—she’s upstairs . . . Her name is Cherry.”
“If you move I will put this hammer through your lazy fucking eye. Understand?”
He is trembling like a faulty vibrator, but he manages a slight nod.
The ugly-coloured carpet swirls with flame as I jog towards the staircase. I remove my blood-splattered t-shirt and wrap it around the lower half of my face as I wade upstairs through the thick grey smoke.
Cherry is in the second room I try—a small guest bedroom at the back of the house. She is spread-eagled on the single bed, still wearing the fake fur coat. She looks half-drugged or all the way drunk. I try to scoop her off the bed, but she lashes out at me with a sharp elbow. I twist one of her nipples to subdue her and hoist her onto my shoulder.
We get halfway down the stairs when the rotten wood cracks from the heat and sends us crashing through the floorboards into the hellish lounge-scape. We shared some bleak times together, but nothing as bad as this flame-grilled cluster-fuck.
Eyes burning, I kick through the charred, ruined furniture in the direction of the sirens. The smoke-choked street is already illuminated with red and blue lights, and I hear the reassuring hiss of cold water on flame.
The fire services aren’t a problem, but I don’t like the look of the prowl cars—or the small-town cops clambering out of them in high-visibility jackets, truncheons raised. Make no mistake, my card is well and truly marked in this town.
I drop Cherry on top of Uncle fucking Boggs and run back into the cleansing fire, unable to see, but aiming for the kitchenette, the back door, and something that passes for freedom.
Bent Boggs. Frank the Wank. Career opportunities. This fucking town.
Tonight we burn.
Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash, and Spelk Fiction. A pair of novelettes, Skull Meat and Snuff Racket, are available via Amazon, while his first short story collection, Meat Buttles & Other Stories, was released by Near To The Knuckle in June 2018. Looking ahead, Repetition Kills You, described as ‘a literary jigsaw puzzle, will be published by All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books) on 21st September 2018.